Newsweek's Graham: Conservative Ire Over New Black Panther Voter Intimidation Simply 'Political Theater'

During the previous presidential administration, the liberal media were more than happy to promote the Left's allegations of improper political interference by Bush officials in the workings of the federal government. The Bushies improperly revised government scientists' conclusions, bullied CIA analysts over their interpretation of Iraq intelligence, and perhaps worst of all, politicized the Justice Department, the media insisted.

Yet when it comes to a serious charge of political interference by Obama appointees at the DOJ involving voter intimidation,  Newsweek's David Graham dismisses the charge as simply another effort by conservatives at "staging an effective piece of political theater that hurts the Obama administration." 

As Newsweek editors quipped in their headline for Graham's story, "The New Black Panther Party Is the New ACORN."

As we've noted here at NewsBusters, the liberal media virtually ignored the story about how a DOJ career attorney's case against a New Black Panther member was dropped in May 2009 under the okay of an Obama DOJ appointee.

Now with attention being cast by conservatives on the media's bias by omission, folks like Graham are coming to the defense of the media by painting the matter as a non-scandal, evidenced in part by the conservative media outlets that have been the ones at the forefront of reporting the story:

Several months after the 2008 Election Day incident (and 13 days before President Obama was sworn in) the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against the NBPP under the Voting Rights Act, alleging voter intimidation. In May 2009, Justice—now led by Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama's appointee—successfully obtained an injunction against King Samir Shabazz, the man who carried the nightstick, then dropped the suit, Fox News reported. A spokeswoman at Justice says a career attorney made the call, which was then affirmed by an appointee, because "the facts and the law did not support pursuing claims against the other defendants in the case. A federal judge determined that the relief requested by the Department was appropriate."

That's where things get messy. Starting last summer, some conservative media outlets—notably The Washington Times—began digging into the case, suggesting that because a top Obama appointee had signed off on the decision to drop charges, a move allegedly political favoritism (and, by implication, racism, given that both Holder and Obama are black).

Graham went on to call into question the veracity of a key witness who alleged the Obama DOJ's civil rights division had no interest in prosecuting blacks, only whites, on charges related to vote surpression or voter intimidation:

Although that story didn't go mainstream, it did cause the Commission on Civil Rights, an independent body, to take up the case. As Dave Weigel reported, there was more to that decision than met the eye: after eight years of George W. Bush appointments, the commission tilted definitively right. In addition, the star witness in the case against the NBPP, Bartle Bull, wasn't exactly impartial. The white former Robert F. Kennedy aide, who called the incident "the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my political campaigns in many states, even going back to the work I did in Mississippi in the 1960s," had been an outspoken critic of Obama for some time.

The commission has met several times to examine the case, but things really blew open on July 6, when Bush Justice official J. Christian Adams, who is white, suggested that Justice's voting division avoided bringing cases where defendants were black and plaintiffs were white. Adams's testimony is questionable; there are doubts about whether he was actually present for the incidents he described, and he's refused to offer details on key questions. Critics see other credibility problems for Adams: he was, for instance, hired when Bush's Justice Department was systematically weakening the civil-rights division by forcing out career lawyers and replacing them with attorneys who had strong conservative credentials but little in the way of civil-rights experience.

Did you catch that? To substantiate his charge that Adams is an unreliable witness, Graham takes as gospel truth the notion that the Bush DOJ had systematically politicized the Justice Department. The Obama/Holder DOJ can't possibly be a place where political considerations trump career attorneys because the prior administration was blatantly political, Graham seems to argue.

What's more, Graham goes on to contend that:

With some help from Fox News's Kelly, the New Black Panthers story is now gaining steam. While there's little doubt that the NBPP is a fringe group, critics of the decision to drop the suit have a tough case to make. The problem is that although it may look like voter intimidation, there aren't actually any voters who filed an official complaint claiming to have been intimidated. As Adam Serwer writes, a polling station in a predominantly black neighborhood isn't the best place to go if you're trying to scare white voters off: "I imagine that the New Black Panthers thought they were protecting black voters from some phantom white-supremacist conspiracy (their public statements say as much)." And Weigel, who's followed the case, has suggested there's not much to it either—plus, "there's no evidence the NBPP's clownish Philadelphia stunt suppressed any votes, or that they'll try such a stunt again." 

Just because the New Black Panthers are clowns who many voters may have laughed off doesn't mean that their actions were, objectively speaking, unworthy of prosecution as voter intimidation, but that's what the liberal media are hanging their hats on to defend Team Obama and tell the American public that this scandal is all much ado about nothing.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters